Cissy in shape for solo adventure

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 March, 1993, 12:00am

COMPULSIVE seems harsh in describing Cissy Pao. But she uses that word in talking about herself.

During an interview the artist fidgets, tapping a slim foot or finger as if she hears an imaginary tune.

Her eyes dart, tracing the moves of the gallery staff who are unpacking her paintings. ''Here, let me help,'' she volunteers. But the offer, repeated several times, isn't taken.

Hanging a show is always frustrating, the Hongkong-born painter points out.

The 20 sculptural paintings in Mountains and Water , her solo show opening today at Hanart TZ Gallery, in the Old Bank of China Building, belie their Japanese roots. The bold graphic influences, she points out, come from living in Japan and being aroundartists in Tokyo for five years.

She, her husband, a trained architect who has since joined her family's business, and their two children, are about to move back to Hongkong. Cissy Pao is the youngest daughter of the late Sir Yue-kong Pao.

She talks little of her three siblings. ''We all have our own lives. My sisters have backgrounds in art - interior design, graphic design and related fields. Each has an eye for design. I'm the only one who pursued it as a career.

''They've seen my works. I send them catalogues. But I doubt if they really know what I'm up to. Everyone's pretty busy.

''I come back to visit. But I haven't lived here for years,'' says Ms Pao, whose halo of curly hair seems to dwarf her small frame.

The first and last time her paintings were shown here was in a group show in 1972. The time is right for her now, she says.

She wanted to make it as an artist in the United States first before Asia.

''Hongkong is full of rich people. You can buy a studio, set yourself up and you've made it.'' She detoured from the norm decades ago.

Education came first. She earned degrees in art from Washington University, St Louis, Missouri, Cleveland Institute of Arts and Pratt Graphic Centre in New York. Work followed. Years in the studio combined with active participation in the art worlds of New York and California. The majority of her shows and group exhibitions have been in North America.

Though a show at the Whitney (a prestigeous museum in New York) would be the ultimate reassurance of having arrived, it hasn't happened. Yet.

Chinese artists in America need a voice there. Their talent demands to be recognised, she believes. ''We have Chinese sitting on the boards of the major museums in the United States. But they're in traditional Chinese art, not contemporary.'' She likes the changes she sees in the art environment here. ''It was never a great place for artists. People were always too busy making money to care. Now, that they have been successful in that way, there may be more opportunities for artists.'' She is looking around for a studio. Getting out of the house lets her focus more easily on her art and being around other artists is stimulating. She toys with the idea of buying a warehouse and turning it in to a complex of artist studios, similar to Mantauk Writers' Colony outside New York City, founded by the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright-author Edward Albee.

That she works with wood comes as no surprise. She cuts cloud-like shapes from ordinary plywood for her multi-layered constructions ''that start with an idea or a feeling and take on a life of their own''.

She covers each piece with canvas and applies acrylics in rich tones. By Japanese standards, her colours are loud. By New York's, they're muted.

Of her artistic life in New York, she recalls: ''I did a lot of boxes. All those skyscrapers and no space make you feel somewhat confined.'' 1997 will have an effect on the quality and intensity of contemporary art here, she believes. There will be more passion. These years will be vital ones for the art scene.

''I am coming back to Hongkong with an open mind,'' she shrugs, smiling. ''Whatever happens will be an adventure.''